The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic reminds us all of the essentiality of prescription medications in public health protection. We Americans are counting on our clinical pharmaceutical scientists and medicinal chemists to discover a safe and effective remedy for the pernicious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Younger readers may be surprised to learn the significant impact of prescription medications on modern medicine’s treatment modality, especially to the most vulnerable geriatric patients. In fact, the vital role of prescription medications in geriatric medicine have incited the enactment of Prescription Drug Benefit Plan to Medicare, which is commonly known as Medicare Part D. Through an arduous process, Medicare Part D was finally signed into law and incorporated into existing Medicare plans in 2005, after 40 years of vigorous discussions and intensive debates at the Federal level.
Over the last fifteen years, Medicare Part D has made prescription medications more affordable for American seniors. Geriatric patients are able to afford their prescription medications through a selected prescription benefit or a component of a Medicare Advantage Plan. Since the enactment of the Medicare Part D plan, copious amount of statistical data has proven that Medicare Part D has significantly benefited American seniors. Comparing to other federal-funded programs, Medicare Part D has received the highest satisfaction rating from the geriatric population in the US.
So why does Medicare Part D work so well?
Unlike Medicare part A and part B, Medicare Part D was designed to allow American seniors to independently select a prescription medication plan offered by various privately-owned health insurance that is best suited for their medical condition. In other words, with the current Medicare Part D model, American seniors are encouraged to select a prescription medication plan that meets their needs, instead of being pressured to go along with a “one size fits all” type of Medicare drug coverage plan. The availability of multiple prescription medication coverage plans for geriatric patients to enroll not only compels them to sign up but also incentivizes health plans to drive hard bargains with pharmaceutical manufacturers on drug pricing to ensure affordability of prescription medications for all American seniors.
Just like everything else in life, Medicare Part D plan also has its flaws. Through joint efforts, Congress has been working diligently over the last decade to enhance the existing Medicare Part D plan. Unfortunately, some of what is being considered by Democratic Congressional leaders will undermine the free market competition and negatively impact American seniors’ freedom to select the most suitable prescription medication plan for their health conditions. Dolefully, both of the aforementioned elements are the focal points or the “very heart” of the Medicare Part D’s success.
Case in point, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s H.R. 3, would impose government drug-price controls including imported medications and drug-pricing structure from socialist healthcare systems abroad. What we know about those socialist systems is that they rely on rationing, often restricting geriatric patients to low-cost generic drugs and denying them to all or most of the novel, advanced, high-cost pharmaceutical therapies. To make the current situation worse, proposals that are being considered in the U.S. Senate, some are labeled as bipartisan, also contain government drug-price control mechanisms which may dramatically curtail innovation for new medications. The Council of Economic Advisors estimates that if enacted, H.R. 3 would be a major threat to pharmaceutical innovation, and reduce the research and development of as many as 100 new medications over the next decade, a staggering and distressing loss of potential pharmacotherapies for diseases and ailments.
As a pharmacist, I wholeheartedly support a health plan that allows my patients to have access to the newest, safest, and most effective pharmacotherapies, and having access to a wide variety of affordable medications would ensure optimal pharmacotherapies are provided to our patients, especially geriatric patients. I also would like to see our country, flourished with pharmaceutical innovations, and continue to maintain our role as a global leader in healthcare and pharmaceutical research and development.
Presently, actions have been taken by Congress, such as S. 3129 offered by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; H.R. 19 offered by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, and several commonsense reforms would help maintain lower out-of-pocket costs for American seniors without undermining what has made Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage Plans successful since its enactment.
These bills were drafted to cap the annual out of pocket costs that seniors have to pay and also lower the co-pays for medications that American seniors are referring to as the “donut hole” in their medication prescription coverages. In addition, these bills were also designed to channel more of the significant savings resulted from negotiations conducted between health plans and drug manufacturers directly into the pockets of American seniors, instead of adding to the privately-owned health plans’ annual revenue.
Equally important, S. 3129 and H.R. 19 helps seniors afford their drugs without curtailing or suppressing the pharmaceutical industry’s research and development, which Americans are in dire need of, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.
In Arizona, biopharmaceutical companies account for over 8,000 jobs and $3.7 billion in annual economic output, generating over $45 million in annual tax revenue for the state. It is this amazing infrastructure and joint efforts from dedicated pharmaceutical scientists not only in Arizona but in many other states across our country, working tirelessly and incessantly to discover the rapid development of test kits, vaccines and cures for Coronavirus that we are pinning our hopes on today. In fact, some of these vaccines and potential remedies have gone into clinical trials in a matter of days. That extraordinary response is possible only because we did not starve or suppress our pharmaceutical innovators through the unwise government medication-price control mechanism, which have proven to decimate pharmaceutical research and innovations in other countries.
As congressional leaders look at schemes and strategies to lower drug prices, it is imperative that our country’s policy makers understand the strength and positive impact of pharmaceutical innovations. Many lives in our country and around the world are depending on it, especially during the COVID-19 crisis!
Kevin Dang is a pharmacist and member of the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy.